Thursday, March 17th
Our story begins on regional’s eve… Thursday night in Austin, Texas. My plan was to fly out the next morning at 8 am, but the opportunity came to hang out with some cool VGC peeps. That would become the theme for the story of my first experience at a Regional. I met up with USPA commissioner Tre “2thyfor” Hoard, as well as Texas super-gamers Tiki and RollAcosta. We met up at a diner for some food and one of the things that stood out to me from that night was something that Tre had said. It was something along the lines of:
“Honestly, you don’t go to regionals to compete, you go to see new places and hang out with friends.”
This really resonated with me because in the front of my mind was the competition. I’m a very naturally competitive person as I’ve been competing in athletics at the national and international level since I was about 10 years old. So for me, the thought of investing a significant amount of time and money without a guarantee of a tangible return on my investment was frightening. I could try and try as hard as I could but there’s no guarantee of hitting your moves, preventing crits, and accounting for the number of random factors that can hinder one’s performance. However, there is the other side of the equation to balance it out. I could meet new people, link up with friends I’ve met in the online era, and have a good time. To me those things are tangible, and I planned to maximize that aspect of my trip.
Friday, March 18th
I boarded my plane early Friday morning and smooth flying had our flight get in a bit early. Yellowstone/HI manager KJchicken had agreed to pick up Angelohunter, Phil Wesley (RegisteelSucks), and me from the airport. I navigated the underground maze that is the Salt Lake City airport and eventually found my way to them. It’s always interesting meeting someone in-person for the first time who you’ve interacted with a fair bit online. Though these three made me feel just like we were still just chatting in Discord. We chatted and drove to the venue where we’d go to check-in to the event and go through COVID protocols.
For those who thought that the protocols imposed by the organizers were somehow stringent and restrictive, let me just say that I’ve had a harder time at the grocery checkout than I did getting checked in for the event. That is not only a testament to the preparedness of the organizers and volunteers, but to the coordination of all involved in making things run incredibly smoothly. Angelo, Phil, and I wandered aimlessly around the venue for a bit before seeing our first familiar face. A face from the locals I’d left behind in New Jersey, Joe Ugarte. We all greeted each other and exchanged pleasantries before quickly pivoting to talking about the event. “What’s your restricted pair?” became the line of the day for virtually everyone we encountered. As we walked around the venue, we encountered more familiar faces including Nate “Kortex” Ortiz, and Colorado manager/incredible human being Joel Nino. We met Joel’s future VGC champion kids, who were awesome and a pleasure to hang with throughout the weekend. I thought to myself how interesting it is that we’re already bridging a generational gap through this game we play, and how cool it is that regardless of demographics we can all collectively nerd out about the same thing.
We all went out to lunch at the Red Iguana, a local Mexican restaurant famous for its large iguana sculpture. Lunch was delicious but very much had us all feeling lethargic afterward (not too lethargic for a quick group photo though). We all split up to go to our respective lodgings to check in.
Joe and I went and wandered around the city square and shopping center to walk off lunch, remarking the whole time how beautiful and clean the city was. And truly it was. The view of the mountains peeking up between the buildings was truly a sight to behold. My awe might’ve been a result of living my entire life in very flat parts of the country, but I stand firmly that SLC is one of if not the most beautiful city I’ve been to in the US.
We stopped for a bit on a bench inside the mall to answer some Discord dm’s and discuss our teams/MUs for the tournament. Joe was curious about my team’s matchup into Palkia/Caly-Ice, and we ended up playing a set on showdown in the middle of the mall like truly degenerate VGC players. Afterward, we ventured back to the venue and met back up with some of the people we’d gone to lunch with, but also met Brock “catfishyyy” Honda, another notable USPA player. After a bit, Joe started taking money matches on the side for fun (to which Brock and I both fell victim). I looked at the time and realized that it was 6 pm (8 pm est), only an hour before 3 of New Jersey’s USPA sets were scheduled to take place. I hurried back to my hotel so I could help my team prep and watch the matches. After going down 2-0 vs Texas, the team crawled back to 2-2 due to two tremendous sets from WilliamTheShuai and Paul Chua.
Coming up shortly after that, was an event organized by KJ, a USPA pickup basketball game. Again I cannot express how great it was of KJ to rent out the gym for all of us and to help organize the event. After 1 game of being thoroughly demolished, my night of basketball was over, and it was time to turn my attention to the final set of our semi-finals match vs Texas (though I got my one highlight in).
I’ve never been on such a roller coaster of emotions watching a set as I was watching Borghi vs Jag. To say I’m proud of Nick’s mental fortitude in the face of crit after crit would be an understatement.
We took a picture of the group and all went our separate ways. Afterward, I went back to the hotel and hopped on Discord to celebrate with the team, and prepare for the massive task ahead, performing at my first Regional Championship.
Saturday March 19
I’m going to preface my description of tournament day by saying I was not well. I was pretty sick the entire day but especially in the afternoon, so though there was a lot going on around me, my recollection of most of it is blurry. I started the day walking to Starbucks with Jonas to get food and coffee. It was still very dark as we walked towards the venue and one thing that I recall distinctly is the number of times they said “Damn, this is crazy.” Facts Jonas… Facts. We checked in our bags and entered the venue. We got into line to set up our DNS settings for the LAN adapters and hopped in line for battle box check. Now, if there was one criticism I could offer for the event, it was just how long it took to check everybody’s team in. The line took about 90 minutes all the way through which was weirdly taxing mentally. I stood in line with Ryan “AzMatic” Bingham and a new friend, Caelan “_Cabro” Brown. I realized as I stood in this seemingly never-ending line, that my ankle was really hurting (probably as a result of falling after getting my feet caught up with someone else’s during the basketball game the previous night).
We finally got to the end of the line and quickly checked our teams in. The person who checked my team in was none other than NJ super TO Jen Bamo, which brought back a flood of pre-COVID nostalgia from the few events I was able to attend before lockdown. I recall my time going to locals pre-COVID when I knew virtually no one. The only person I knew was Caleb “CableVGC” Ryor, and our relationship was…special.
I recall that I used to have a lot of anxiety at events, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t know anybody and nobody knew me. If my performance wasn’t great, the experience felt hollow, as there was no one to share it with. At that point in my VGC career, I didn’t see the value in befriending my fellow competitors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a cold person, I just didn’t want to make friends if I wasn’t sure I would be sticking around in the scene long term (thankfully COVID made that decision simpler for me). So I felt a sense of personal pride when I saw Jen, knowing that I was neither the same person nor player that I was the last time I’d played in a tournament she attended (I should note that I’m 99% sure she neither recognized me nor knew who I was in the first place so this entire trip of nostalgia was happening subconsciously. I swear I’m not weird).
After I was checked in, all I could do was relax and wait for round 1 to start.
The start to my tournament could be easily encapsulated by the well-known English football phrase, “It’s the hope that kills you.” My round 1 opponent was Benny “tutti” Rogers and our MU went pretty normally. Game 1 they ran through me with standard Sun. However, I was able to gain a tremendous amount of information for Game 2 and I made good adjustments to take the win. Game 3 I started very well, taking a KO into their Grimmsnarl and having my Celesteela at full health, +1 Sp. Atk, +1 Def, with 2 turns of max left and no Light Screen on their side of the
field. However, I failed to make the safe play and swap in my Ogre to lessen the Max Flare and got crit OHKO’d. From that point, there was pretty much nothing I could do with what I had in the back, and took the round 1 loss. Not how I wanted to start my tournament, but it was not going to deter me. However, after taking a very quick loss to Snooze in round 2, it was beginning to feel like my tournament might be over before it had even begun. Especially as all my friends remarked about their 2-0 starts, it became difficult to stop myself from comparing myself to them.
I did my best to focus my energy towards my next opponents and was able to pick up 2 wins to bring myself back to 2-2. It was around this time that I noticed that I wasn’t feeling very well. I was very much going through the motions and though I had won 2 sets, I was truly in every sense of the word just clicking buttons. I was hoping that a lunch break would help me renew my focus and help refuel me with some much-needed energy. Angelo, Kortex, Tutti, and I went to grab food at a local burger place and ate outside the venue. As soon as I re-entered the venue I could feel my last bit of focus float away. I sat down at a table and put my head down, hoping that a few minutes of silent reflection might help me recenter myself. As I sat down to start round 5, I saw the one thing I had dreaded seeing the whole tournament… AV Yveltal. This was incredibly deflating because unless I played virtually perfectly, I couldn’t beat this team. I was able to manage a game win in game 2 because I was able to hide Energy Ball on my Celesteela game 1 and I got a free KO into their Gastrodon which they didn’t expect. Game 3 though they adjusted and disposed of me easily. At this point, I knew that off of resistance and current record my tournament was over. There would be no CP and no glory for me this weekend. Because I’m a competitor I decided to take on my opponent for round 6, but very quickly started to feel light-headed and had a sickness in my stomach. I’ll spare you the details of the set because it was very ugly. I informed my friends I was going to head out and that I’d meet up with them later and wished them all good luck.
To give you a sense of the state of disarray I was in (and this is 100% true, hand to god), on my walk back to the hotel I was approached by a beggar who started into a bologna story about why he needed money. About halfway through he stopped and said, “Hey are you alright?” I replied, “Why, do I have a kind of lost look on my face?” He said, “No it’s almost more of an anger in your eyes.” I think what he was sensing was disappointed with myself for not being able to finish out the event. I was a bit taken aback at how on the nose he was at diagnosing my state of mind and I gave him $5 and continued to walk to the hotel. I laid down in bed and opened the stream to watch ProfessorRagna play his win and in for top-cut, but after about 2 minutes my eyes became heavy and I fell asleep (sorry Ragna).
I woke up in a bit of a daze around 7:30 and checked my phone to see what had transpired in the remainder of the tour. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well some of my friends had done and felt an overwhelming happiness for them. I was relieved that even though I wasn’t able to perform up to my usual standards, so many USPA players were able to finish in the top tier of players. One of these players was Jeremy “j.money” Boyd, who played basketball with us the night before and who we’d shared an uber ride home with. With the utmost respect to Jeremy, his level of confidence the previous day did not lead me to believe that he’d be the force he ended up being in this tournament. I was very happy for him, and for the other USPA players who had top cut the tournament, including Joe, Alex “Azulite” Arand, Aaron “Unreality” Traylor, and of course Chongun Peng.
To say that Chongjun was a force of nature during this tournament would actually be reductive of his performance. Not dropping a game until Grand Finals is an incredibly impressive feat and hats off to him for this unbelievable run.
When Jonas got back to the hotel, they informed me that they’d finished 6-2 and bubbled cut. Their disappointment was apparent, but I was incredibly happy for them. For their own first regional performance this was an incredible result and we “celebrated” by ordering pizza and watching some of the college basketball games. We made a plan to grab breakfast and go to the venue the next morning and went to bed early.
Sunday, March 20th
I woke up with slightly more clarity than I’d had the night before and stumbled through the dark to the shower. Refreshed and renewed, we packed up our bags and began the process of checking out of the hotel. We rolled the dice on getting a table at a popular local breakfast spot, that our Uber driver had informed us tends to get very busy. Luckily when we arrived, there was one open table and we were seated immediately. After a great breakfast, we walked across the street to Liberty Park to see the aviary there and look around. The park was picturesque and was definitely a worthwhile detour. Like Ferris Buehler said, “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” While very much a cliche, it encapsulated my overall experience here in Salt Lake City very well. The small side adventures that I was able to go on during my time there were what made the trip worth every penny.
We sat down in the back row of the crowd at the venue to watch the cut matches and watched insane moment after insane moment unfold. My personal favorite was Aaron maxing his Whimsicott against Zee in the top 8. As soon as the Kyogre was swapped in, I turned to the person next to me and said, “He’s maxing the Whims.” The transition from befuddlement to awe on their face was priceless. All of the sets were incredibly entertaining and well worth the price of admission on their own. I’ll once again offer my sincerest congratulations to everyone in top cut for the excellent performances, especially the USPA players who made us all very proud.
One of the things that was said a lot to me this weekend was “I loved USPA, it was such a good idea!” to which I could only reply, “Thank you, I’m very really glad we did it.” It was very nice to witness firsthand the connections that were made during USPA and how they translated to IRL events, exactly as we had hoped when we first decided to put this whole thing together. Equally as exciting were the dozen or so people who I met who had not heard of USPA, but who glowed when I told them what we were hoping to accomplish. The common response was typically “When is the next one?” To which I wasn’t sure how to respond. The hope for USPA is that it isn’t a seasonal affair, but a continuous way for newer online players to connect with the people they will meet at events going forward into the future. Based on the fact that 15 of the top 26 players in the event played in USPA this season, I would say the fruit of that dream is already coming to bear.
I walked with Ragna and Catfish to meet up with some people for lunch (Nino and the Ninopokechildren, AzMatic, Kortex, Caelan + his girlfriend) at a place called Nacho Daddy, a pun that I don’t even think the corniest of dads would dare to make. It had just started snowing and the wind picked up as we walked, covering our hair in white. Catfish who is from Hawaii had never experienced snow before, which was a cool moment to b
e a part of (he didn’t like it sadly). After a nice lunch, a bunch of us took the free public transport train back to the airport (where Kortex, Phil, and I were staying the night). We made plans to go out to an arcade bar called Quarters Arcade Bar. Initially, we had planned for it to be a bigger group but ended up being myself, Phil, Ragna, and Catfish.
The four of us enjoyed playing Foosball, Skii-Ball, Pac-man, and a number of other retro arcade games. To top it off, there was a free concert going on in a small side room in the bar. It wasn’t exactly my scene musically, but if nothing else it was definitely an experience to remember. On the way out, Phil bought a sweatshirt as a memento which I genuinely cannot believe as I’m writing this that he purchased. Shoutouts to you guys for making our last night a blast!
As far as first experiences at regionals go, I’d like to think that if nothing else, mine was pretty unique. I got to hang out with great people, eat great food, and watch and play a game that I truly love (despite what I usually say). Though I may not be in the best position to give advice, I’d like to share a bit of advice that I’d give to someone attending their first event, as well as a few of the things that I took away from my first Regional.
1) Say yes to things
Opportunities to do cool things don’t always come along, so when they do, it’s important to make your default response “yes.” I’ve found that in the past I have had a tendency to shut things down before I’ve had the opportunity to experience them for myself. This tends to be a slippery slope as well because if you become known as the kind of person who doesn’t jump at the chance to do things, you end up not being invited to do other things going forward. In my current place in life, I’m fortunate to be able to put myself out there and try new things, and I hope that’s something that people attending their first events try to take advantage of as well.
2) Introduce yourself to people, both people you know of and people you don’t.
At least 5 people said to me this weekend, “Wow, you really know a lot of people huh?” The answer to that is, yes, but because I try really hard at it. I don’t know lots of people because I’m good at the game or because there’s something important to know about me. I make it my business to interact with different people in different parts of the community, rather than just inside of a vacuum of close friends. I’ve found that this has not only opened opportunities to be invited along for different things (both online and in-person), but to be included in discussions that allowed me to glean perspective about the game. I should say that there are definitely people who feel they are maxed out on how many people they want to have in their immediate circles, and that’s okay. Because there are hundreds of people in this community who are looking to make connections with new people for a number of different reasons. Navigating this can be difficult, but it’s important to at least put yourself out there, and to put your best foot forward.
3) Don’t take the competitive aspect of the event too seriously
This is a very hard thing for me to say as it’s taken a fair amount of personal growth for me to get to a place in my life where I’m comfortable admitting this; but results aren’t everything. People become well known and well liked for a myriad of reasons, but nobody wants to be known as the person who is rude to their opponent because they got haxed, or because they beat them easily. Assigning personal worth to yourself based on results is a slippery slope that leads to that kind of behavior and I cannot stress enough how important it is to not only have a sense of humor about performance, but to separate your experience from your performance. Two years ago, I would’ve described this trip as an absolute disaster. I spent a lot of money to come here, be sick, and perform poorly and publicly. However, I will remark that despite the results, this trip has been worth every penny.
I cannot recommend enough that people try going to events when they become available in your area. Even if you aren’t able to make it for any number of reasons, do not be discouraged. We at USPA will continue to host tournaments and strive to connect you with other players in your local area, so when the time comes when you are ready to get out there and meet people and have your own amazing Regionals experience.
Thank you to everyone I met who made this an unforgettable experience!